Labour must earn its support

by New Worker correspondent in Durham

“THE LABOUR Party has no God-given right to exist,” Len McCluskey, general secretary of the giant union Unite, told tens of thousands of people gathered in the baking sun on the vast Racecourse field at the 129th Durham Miners’ Gala last Saturday.

McCluskey had already given a summary of how the Labour Party came into being — formed by the trade unions so that working class people would have a party to represent them in Parliament.

But he warned: “The political class has become adrift from ordinary people and has failed to offer an alternative to austerity. Serious opposition to the austerity consensus is scarcely to be seen in Parliament.

“In David Cameron’s Britain the message is ‘If you come from privilege, if you have money, we’ll look after you’. Look at the hypocrisy of a government which scrapped the independent pay review body that protected some of the poorest for a hundred years, the Agricultural Wages Board, yet founds an independent pay review body to give MPs a £6,500 pay rise and dishes out tax givebacks to billionaires.”

Then he warned Labour leader Ed Miliband: “The Labour party must understand it can only exist if it remains the voice of ordinary working people.

“The parliamentary Labour party today does not look like, or think like, the working class communities it seeks to represent. That is a serious problem. It is increasingly the preserve of people who glide from university to think tank to the green benches, without ever sniffing the air of the real world.

“That is what Unite was fighting for in Falkirk — to give the working class a stake in our democracy. I make no apology for that.

“Ed Miliband has now announced the biggest ever shake-up in the trade union Labour link — a link over 100 years old. Yes, it’s a gamble — change worth having always is.

“But let me say this: I am ready for reform. I am ready to engage with the Labour party to find a way to re-engage hundreds of thousands of trade union members with the party their forefathers and foremothers created.

“A vibrant, stronger, more democratic Labour party will be a good thing.

“I am ready for reform because the status quo is no longer an option. It has not delivered for those of us represented here today. It did not stop us having a New Labour government that pampered the rich and waged illegal wars, while it left in place the most restrictive trade union laws in the whole of Western Europe.

“Ed Miliband is at his best when he is boldest, when he challenges the media tycoons like Rupert Murdoch, the corporate giants not paying fair taxes and those who protect privilege yet cause inequality and poverty.

“But if we are to go out and convince thousands of working class men and women that they want to sign up to be associate Labour party members they will not be interested in the rule-book, or even the history. They will want to know will Labour make a difference?

“Will the next Labour government reverse the present coalition’s disastrous policies? Will it be different not just from Cameron and his crew but from the Blair-Brown years as well?

“If we can say ‘Yes, Labour has learned, and Labour is on your side’ then this scheme will work. But if our people — our members — are unclear as to the answer then no amount of persuading will get them to sign up.

“So I say to Ed, Unite — and the people here today — are your supporters. The future is in your hands. Make Labour the party we all want.”

On the same platform the RMT’s Bob Crow had called for trade union support to create “a new party of labour” to challenge head on the pro-business, anti-worker agenda of the three main political parties, Tory, Labour and Liberals.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady defended the link between the trade unions and the Labour Party, calling the union contributions to the party “the cleanest money in politics” and warned that the Con-Dem Coalition and the media are trying to force working class people out of the political arena.